ANDERSEN STANDS STRONG THROUGHOUT SCORELESS FIRST; MATTHEWS GIVES BUDS GAME'S FIRST LEAD
The Maple Leafs were riding a four-game win streak (and had won eight of their past 10) entering Tuesday's tilt with the Sabres, but it was Buffalo, playing in front of their home crowd at KeyBank Center, that came out strongly to start this game. The Sabres had twice as many shots (14 in total) than Toronto did (seven shots) in the opening frame, but Andersen turned them all aside.
Then, nearing the midway point of the second period, centre Auston Matthews stepped up and scored his 14th goal in as many games he's played this season:
Video: TOR@BUF: Matthews grabs puck, scores on wraparound
Matthews missed a month with an upper-body injury, but since he returned to action Nov. 28, he's been a monster on offence: his goal Monday gave him four in three games since returning, and it gave the Buds the all-important first goal of the night.
SABRES TIE IT UP, BUT GARDINER SCORES WITH 10 SECONDS LEFT IN SECOND TO RESTORE TORONTO'S LEAD
Buffalo tied the game at 14:01 of the first on a Sam Reinhart marker, but in the dying seconds of the opening period, winger Mitch Marner, centre John Tavares and blueliner Jake Gardiner combined for a gorgeous go-ahead goal:
Video: TOR@BUF: Gardiner nets Tavares' superb feed
Both Marner and Tavares had to make terrific passes to put Gardiner in scoring position, and the veteran D-man didn't hesitate with the puck as he beat goalie Linus Ullmark with 10 seconds left before the first intermission for his second goal of the season. That gave the Leafs confidence as the second frame began.
TWO GOALS FROM EICHEL EARLY IN THIRD PUTS SABRES AHEAD, BUT MARLEAU'S GOAL SENDS GAME TO OVERTIME
The Sabres have a sterling 9-2-1 home record entering Tuesday's game, and they showed their resilience early in the third period: star centre Jack Eichel tied it at two goals apiece at 2:39 of the third, and the Buffalo captain gave his team its first lead of the night at 12:57 of the third when he scored his seventh goal of the year.
However, the Leafs also are a resilient club, and they showed why when forward Patrick Marleau notched his seventh goal of the season (and third in five games) with 5:13 left in regulation time:
Video: TOR@BUF: Marleau banks in tying goal
Marleau's veteran leadership has helped keep the Leafs' dressing room on an even keel, but he's also still capable of finishing off scoring plays at crucial moments. Knotting the score late in the third certainly qualifies as one such moment, and because of that goal, the teams went to 3-on-3 overtime.
IN DYING SECONDS OF OT, MATTHEWS STEPS UP, SCORES GAME-WINNER TO KEEP BUDS' WIN STREAK ALIVE AND EXTENDED TO FIVE GAMES
Buffalo has won all three games they played that went to a shootout this year, so that might not have been an ideal place to decide the game for Toronto. Fortunately for the Leafs, Matthews scored his second goal of the night (and his 15th of the season) with just three seconds left in overtime:
Video: TOR@BUF: Matthews scores late in overtime
The last rush of the five-minute OT period saw both Gardiner (who wound up with a two-point night) and winger Kasperi Kapanen cooly drop the puck back until it got to Matthews, who ripped a shot past Ullmark to give the Leafs their fifth consecutive win and a valuable two points against a talented Atlantic Division rival.
The Buds will have another opportunity to beat an Atlantic rival Thursday, when they host the Detroit Red Wings. The Leafs beat the Wings 5-3 on Oct. 11th, and that means they'll be out to atone for the defeat. Toronto may have winger William Nylander in the lineup for the first time this year, but even if his return to NHL action is still a ways away, the Leafs are currently clicking and confident. That's got to please head coach Mike Babbock as he looks at his team's 20-8-0 record (including an 11-3-0 road mark) at the one-third mark of the season.